Lee Bets on N.Korea Pipeline as Lasting Legacy

      March 14, 2012 13:29

      President Lee Myung-bak, now in the fifth and last year of his term, is apparently focusing efforts to leave some kind of legacy on a natural gas pipeline that is to run from Russia through North Korea to the South.

      Stressing the importance of resource diplomacy, Lee recently toured the Middles East and won a huge contract to develop oil fields in the United Arab Emirates. Earlier in January, he appointed Lee Yoon-ho, former ambassador to Russia who was deeply involved in the gas pipeline project, as special envoy for trade.

      When he was a CEO of Hyundai Construction, Lee persuaded then Hyundai Group chairman Chung Ju-yung to push for economic cooperation with the Soviet Union. Lee wrote in his autobiography that it was then he developed a keen interest in the pipeline project.

      Lee and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a memorandum of understanding when Lee was visiting Russia in 2008 to start building pipelines to import at least 7.5 million tons of natural gas a year from Russia in 2015. That is 20 percent of the total demand in Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had expressed support for the project when he visited Russia in August 2011, but he died in December.

      One source familiar with the plan said, "The fact that Lee has less than a year remaining to his term could be an obstacle, but he has a strong will to make the project work. There is a chance that the project could make a huge leap forward towards the end of his presidency."

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